Just five years ago, countless American businesses, investors and entrepreneurs were brought to their knees as a result of a financial crisis that brought economic instability and uncertainty to the majority of homes throughout the United States. A small minority, however, escaped unscathed, or has long since made up for losses. Indeed, despite the fact that America was one of the countries hit hardest by the crisis, there are still a shocking 461 American billionaires.
The wealthiest have, largely, managed to make up what they lost during the crisis and then some. Though it may be hard to believe, considering the current economic climate, the rich have been getting richer, exceeding previous wealth records. As the following list reveals, more often than not wealth is kept close, within the family: When one member strikes gold a family business is often built up, allowing wealth to continue to accumulate.
The 400 wealthiest Americans today are worth just over $2 trillion - a figure that is up $300 billion from last year, and that has more than doubled over the course of the past decade. The average net worth of the 400 richest Americans is $5 billion in 2014 - a record-breaking $800 million increase on last year’s figures.
This list is based on the Bloomberg Billionaires list and ranks the ten wealthiest Americans in the world today. The sectors of success for these billionaires are industrial, technological, software development, holding companies or mass retail business management. This list explores just how these Americans became so successful, and how they're using their riches for further investments or philanthropic projects and donations.
10 Mark Zuckerberg - $34.5 billion
At the age of 30, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest American billionaire on this list. Zuckerberg co-founded the social networking website in 2004 with roommate Dustin Moskovitz while the pair were studying at Harvard University. Starting off as a social networking project for Harvard students, before long Facebook expanded to include other universities, and then to people all around the world. Zuckerberg is considered one of the youngest self-made billionaires in history.
Time magazine has named Zuckerberg one of the 100 wealthiest and most influential people in the world every year since 2010. He is a dedicated philanthropist, having signed ‘The Giving Pledge’ in 2010 which promises to donate at least half of his wealth to charity. Zuckerberg has donated money to technological research and educational institutions: Most notably, in late 2013 he donated 18 million Facebook shares to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, with a value of around $990 million. The donation was recognized as the largest charitable gift on public record for that year.
9 Alice Walton - $35.4 billion
64 year-old Alice Walton is the youngest of the Walton Siblings and currently America’s second richest woman. The Wal-Mart heiress lives in Texas, and pursued an education and career in finance. Walton has made a name for herself beyond the family business: far from the aisles of Wal-Mart she founded the investment bank Llama Company in 1988 where she worked as president and CEO.
Walton, however joins forces with her family in their philanthropic endeavours: on the board of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, she has been particularly active in carrying out the foundation’s goal of providing financial support for education in Arkansas universities and colleges, amongst others. She also led the family’s participation in the establishment of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas in 2011, and is one of the world’s richest art patrons.
8 Rob Walton - $36.1 billion
69 year-old Rob Walton is the eldest of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s children. After receiving degrees in business administration and law, Rob became a member of Conner & Winters, the law firm that represented Wal-Mart, and then joined Wal-Mart as senior vice-president, progressing to the role of vice-chairman. After his father’s death in 1992, Rob took up the position of chairman of the board of directors, a position which he still holds. Overall, Walton owns about 406 million shares and has an interest in the regional Arvest Bank. He contributes to the Walton Family Foundation regularly and leads an active lifestyle in Tulsa, Oklahoma alongside his wife Melanie Lowman-Walton.
7 Jim Walton - $37.1 billion
Jim Walton is the youngest son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. The 66 year-old father of four has gone beyond the retail business, acting as the CEO of Arvest Bank as well as chairman and owner of newspaper firm Community Publishers Inc. which was also founded by his father. In 2005, Jim's brother John Walton died in an experimental aircraft crash near Jackson, Wyoming, after which Jim took up his brother’s place on the Wal-Mart board of directors. Along with his siblings, Jim has pledged around $2 billion to the Walton Family Foundation between 2008 to 2013.
6 Christy Walton - $38.9 billion
The richest American woman, Christy Walton is also the richest woman in the world. Walton inherited her fortune from her late husband John Walton whose father Sam Walton was the founder of Wal-Mart. Furthermore, her husband’s investment in First Solar Inc, an American manufacturer of solar panels and provider of PV power plants, has further boosted her wealth.
Aged 65, Christy lives a relatively private life in Jackson, Wyoming and endeavours to do good with her fortune. She is considered to be the biggest female philanthropist in terms of the amount of money that she gives relative to her wealth. She works for non-profit organisations The Philanthropy Roundtable, The San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Zoological Society and the Mingei International Museum. She also provides much support for her family’s own foundation, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. The Walton family features heavily on this list; in 2010 six members of the family had the same combined net worth as the bottom 28-41% of American families combined, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
5 Larry Ellison - $45.5 billion
Despite having dropped out of college for familial reasons, Larry Ellison has risen to be one of the richest men in the world. The American businessman is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the enterprise software company Oracle Corporation. Following a few business mistakes which caused considerable setbacks, Oracle rose to success and in 2010 acquired Sun Microsystems.
According to Capital, Ellison earned $94.6 million in 2013 and is the highest-paid chief executive in the world. Although he donates a considerable amount to charitable organisations, educative and research institutions, Ellison is also a big personal spender, owning numerous cars and homes as well as yachts and planes. In 2012, Ellison even bought 98 percent of the Hawaiian island Lana'i at a price reported to be between $500 and $600 million. He has married and divorced four times.
4 David Koch - $52.7 billion
74 year-old David Koch is co-owner of Koch Industries alongside his brother Charles. The pair inherited the business from their father, Fred Koch, and have proceeded to expand it further ever since. David holds the role of executive vice president of Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company in the United States. Originally focused on oil refinement and chemicals, today the company has branched out to process and pollution control equipment and technologies; fertilizers; commodity trading and services; polymers and fibres; minerals; forest and consumer products as well as ranching. Best-known brands by Koch Industries are Stainmaster, Lycra, Quilted Northern and Dixie Cup.
Recognised for his philanthropy, Condé Nast Portfolio deems him to be 'one of the most generous but low-key philanthropists in America'. He has contributed to numerous charities such as Lincoln Center, Sloan Kettering, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and the American Museum of Natural History. A lover of the arts, Koch made a gift of 100 million dollars to the New York City Ballet in 2008, after which the theatre was renamed the David H. Koch Theatre.He has also donated to (mainly Republican) political advocacy groups.
3 Charles Koch - $52.7 billion
David Koch's older brother and co-owner of Koch Industries, 78 year-old Charles Koch is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the company. Though he is a low-profile personality, Koch released his own book, The Science of Success, in 2007 which describes his management approach. However, despite business success, the company has attracted scandal: In 2012, a series of web videos were put together revealing a number of Koch Industries' environmental and political misdeeds.
Koch however has a philanthropic nature, supporting a number of free market-oriented educational organizations such the Institute for Humane Studies and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He has also provided funds for various charitable organisations and artistic projects. Moreover, Koch co-founded the Cato Institute with his wife Elizabeth, based in Washington DC.
2 Warren Buffett - $67.7 billion
American business magnate and investor Warren Buffett is the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is the largest shareholder of the American multinational conglomerate holding company and is considered to be the most successful investor of the 20th century. Often referred to as the ‘Sage of Omaha’, Buffett is highly respected for his philanthropy: he lives a relatively frugal life for such a wealthy person. He has pledged to give 99% of his fortune to philanthropic causes, usually through the Gates Foundation. In 2012, Time named him one of the most influential people in the world. At 84 years of age, Buffett is still active at Berkshire Hathaway. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, Buffett pulled through, having successfully completed treatment in September of the same year.
1 Bill Gates - $86.1 billion
Co-founder, ex-chief executive and icon of Microsoft software, Bill Gates is not only the richest person in America, but the richest person in the world. As CEO and chief software architect at Microsoft, Gates is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the PC revolution. Widely admired, he has also been criticised for having anti-competitive business tactics. His influence and interests do not however stop at the computer industry: he is a known philanthropist and set up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, donating money to scientific research programs and charities ever since. The Seattle-born 58 year-old innovator is currently technology advisor to the newly appointed CEO Satya Nadella, and has gradually been taking on smaller and smaller roles at Microsoft since 2000.